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Did Martin Callinan order a smear campaign on McCabe? And did Nóirín O'Sullivan know about it?

The Disclosures Tribunal will have some very notable witnesses this month.

Image: Rollingnews.ie

ACCORDING TO COUNSEL for the Disclosures Tribunal, “much of the reason” why they are all here in the first place is because of Superintendent David Taylor.

Taylor was the head of the Garda Press Office. It is the job of that office to brief the media on issues related to An Garda Síochana and answer questions from the press.

The Tribunal will this month begin to examine claims that he made around being “directed” to brief the media “negatively” about garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe as the “Commissioner had instructed”.

It is a crucial part of the Tribunal, after we heard in the summer about how Tusla made a copy-and-paste error that led to false allegations being put on McCabe’s file.

This is the next piece of the puzzle, and over the next few weeks we’ll hear from all the main players involved, including former garda commissioners and prominent journalists.

First up, the Tribunal will look at a topic that nearly brought down the government: the legal strategy adopted by Nóirín O’Sullivan’s team ahead of the O’Higgins Commission. It’ll then get into the minutiae of Taylor’s claims in full.

So, what’s been said before? And what can we expect over the next few weeks? Here’s what you need to know to get you up to speed.

David Taylor

Arrest and suspension

To get to the point where Superintendent Taylor makes a protected disclosure about his directions to brief the media on Maurice McCabe, we need to go back a few steps.

First of all, Taylor was arrested and suspended from the Garda Press Office in May 2015. He was questioned for 20 hours on suspicion of leaking information to journalists about two Roma children being removed from their families in May 2013.

A leak from inside the gardaí resulted in an article in the Sunday World the day after the children were removed from their home. The Children’s Ombudsman investigated whether there had been an unlawful leak to the media of the children’s identity.

Taylor was eventually cleared of unlawfully leaking information, but that wasn’t until February 2017.

In a statement at that time, he said: “After almost two years under formal Garda investigation I have been informed today that a decision has been made not to prosecute me… I have now been vindicated and I will shortly be resuming that part of my life which has been put on hold since the start of this process.”

Taylor now works in the traffic division of An Garda Síochána.

Protected disclosure

The Protected Disclosures Act aims to protect people who raise concerns about possible wrongdoing in the workplace. It protects an employee from punishment or dismissal from a company as long as they had a reasonable expectation that what they said was the case.

In his protected disclosure in September 2016, read out by Tribunal counsel, Taylor said that he was “directed to draw journalists’ attention to the complaint of sexual assault made against Sergeant McCabe and that this was the root cause of his agenda – revenge against the gardaí”.

This is a very serious allegation, as it links senior garda management to the alleged smear campaign against Maurice McCabe. As outlined here, a mistake from a Rian/HSE social worker led to a false allegation of digital penetration being put on McCabe’s file in the first place.

These allegations of a smear against McCabe come against the backdrop of a Public Accounts Committee investigation, and the subsequent O’Higgins Commission, into concerns he and others had raised about garda conduct.

Both of the two previous garda commissioners said in their statements to the Tribunal that they felt Taylor’s disclosure lacked detail, as it did not contain the names of any journalists, the exact nature of his alleged instructions to brief the press against McCabe, or any briefings where these instructions were given.

Martin Callinan said that the allegations made against him have been made in “extremely vague and broad terms”.

Nóirín O’Sullivan said: “His protected disclosure is entirely bereft of any details, particularly in relation to me.”

The Tribunal counsel admitted that they may have a point, so investigators for the Tribunal were sent to interview Taylor to clarify aspects of his statement.

Taylor said that he would need access to his emails, currently archived by the gardaí, to assist the Tribunal, but added that the instructions given to him on this matter were always verbal.

He said: “The instructions referred to were verbal in nature… the instruction by Commissioner Callinan in this regard was always verbal. The instruction was never documented in writing, text or email.

Deputy Commissioner O’Sullivan (as she would have been at the time) never instructed me to brief the media negatively about Sergeant McCabe though as far as I’m concerned she was aware of the instruction by Commissioner Callinan.
Deputy Commissioner O’Sullivan never instructed me to brief journalists against Maurice McCabe, however she was aware of the strategy through my updates to her.

The Tribunal counsel stressed that Taylor is alleging that Nóirín O’Sullivan knew about the direction to smear Maurice McCabe rather than directing it herself.

“No witness has thus far come forward and directly alleged that Commissioner O’Sullivan herself spread rumours or misinformation about Sergeant McCabe,” counsel Patrick Marrinan told the Tribunal.

“We need to hit back”

Speaking to Tribunal investigators, Taylor gave this detailed account of what he claims Callinan told him.

He said: “Commissioner Callinan would have said to me we need to hit back [at McCabe] so that when I was talking to the media in whatever environment it presented itself, I would take advantage and I was to say that McCabe was driven by agendas, he is motivated by revenge, and that revenge is driven by the allegations, the sexual allegations, made against him by someone else’s daughter a number of years ago.

I would say that I did always clarify to the journalists that a file had gone to the DPP and that there was no prosecution, however, this was the narrative. It was put in such a way that there was no smoke without fire, I would drop that in when talking to journalists.

“I will clarify I never saw the garda investigation file into the complaint of sexual assault against Maurice McCabe. What I got was always verbally from the commissioner. I would also say that I believed what the commissioner told me about Maurice McCabe. I had no reason to question what he was telling me.”

Taylor went on to say that he took this opportunity when meeting with unnamed journalists to drop this in about McCabe, and never would have said he was acting on the instructions of Callinan.

Counsel Marrinan told the Tribunal that it had not received specific details of the times Taylor had met with these journalists, what he said, who he said it to and why he can now not remember it.

The Journalists

Journalistic privilege

It is here where the press becomes heavily involved from the Tribunal’s perspective.

Referring to the questions left hanging by Taylor above, Marrinan told the Tribunal: “These are obvious questions that need to be asked but of considerable importance is whether the other parties to these alleged conversations can assist you in coming to the truth.”

The question of journalistic privilege was brought up at the very first hearing of the Tribunal in March. Counsel for newspapers and broadcasters told the judge that their clients shouldn’t have to reveal sources due to journalistic privilege.

In April of this year, however, Taylor provided the Tribunal with a “waiver of any journalistic privilege”.

He said: “I wish to confirm that I do not claim and have not claimed any privilege over my identification as the source of any information, briefing, allegation or belief communicated to journalists in the print, broadcasting or other media directly or indirectly relating to Sergeant Maurice McCabe.”

Furthermore, he waived the right for any privilege to be “asserted on [his] behalf or in relation” to him.

Taylor went on to name a number of journalists, including Paul Williams and RTÉ’s Paul Reynolds.

Williams has already appeared before the Tribunal, in relation to an interview he conducted with Ms D, the woman who had made allegations of misconduct against McCabe in 2006.

Williams said that he went to Taylor to confirm that there had been an investigation into McCabe in 2006, and the press officer confirmed that the DPP had decided against bringing charges at the time.

He said that Taylor “made a throwaway remark” that McCabe’s case was known about in Garda HQ and in government.

Williams told the Tribunal that Taylor was “the eyes and ears of the presiding commissioner”. He added he did not know if Taylor was on a “solo run” or had authority when he confirmed that there had been an investigation of McCabe in 2006.

Another journalist, Gemma O’Doherty told the Tribunal that Williams had been given a garda investigation file on McCabe. He denied this, however.

“Not to be trusted”

In statements to the Tribunal, journalist RTÉ Philip Boucher-Hayes and Martin Callinan disagreed on the nature of a conversation they had before an edition of Crimecall.

Boucher-Hayes alleged that Callinan told him that Maurice McCabe was a “troubled individual and that he had a ‘lot of psychological issues and psychiatric issues’”.

The journalist added that Callinan went further, saying that “McCabe was not to be trusted and went onto add that there were other things he could tell me about him ‘horrific things, the worst kind of thing’ but he did not elaborate further”.

Callinan hit back in his own statement and said that he did not speak “at some length” about McCabe’s character. He denied making the comments that Boucher-Hayes attributed to him.

In addition to this, former Sunday Independent editor Anne Harris made this statement to the Tribunal: “In 2013, the allegation that Sergeant McCabe was a “paedophile” was stated in my office by senior executive from the wider “group” editorial hierarchy of Independent Newspapers.

I am certain that a whispering smear campaign was being conducted and that the media were being used. The pressure on me was less about publishing the sex abuse allegation – it would have been difficult within the laws of libel – but had the clear purpose of discrediting him, and therefore censoring the issues he was raising.

Both Callinan and O’Sullivan deny any knowledge or part in referring to McCabe as a “paedophile”.

The Phones… and more meetings

Gone missing

A lot of the Tribunal’s inquiries hinge around contacts made between phones that belonged to the main players here, including Taylor, Callinan and O’Sullivan.

Superintendent Michael Flynn provided information to the Tribunal that, during the period under examination by the Tribunal, six phones had been granted to O’Sullivan, six to Callinan and three to Taylor.

Of these, only four were provided to the Tribunal at the time of the opening statements in June.

Flynn said that a search was underway to find the remaining phones.

Carpark meeting

Another key element of the claims being made about Callinan relate to a meeting he had with Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness in the carpark of a Bewleys in January 2014.

Taylor told the Tribunal that Callinan had informed him that he had arranged a meeting with McGuinness, who was chairman of the Public Accounts Committee at the time.

“The commissioner never discussed the meeting with me save to confirm it took place,” Taylor said.

Both Callinan and McGuinness agree that the meeting took place, and that McCabe was mentioned. But, in their statements to the Tribunal, they differ widely on what was actually said.

McGuinness told the Tribunal: “I stated that I had heard vague rumours and gossip that Mr McCabe had abused someone and that he was a paedophile but that I had been assured by Mr McCabe that these rumours were lies, that he had heard them before and that they were malicious falsehoods.

Mr Callinan stated to me that the rumours were true, that Mr McCabe had sexually abused someone and that he was not a credible person…. Mr Callinan then asked me was I aware that Mr McCabe had sexually abused family members.

McGuinness said he was “shocked and extremely troubled” by what Callinan told him. He also said Callinan told him he had gotten himself and the PAC “into a lot of trouble by pursuing the penalty points issue”.

Furthermore, McGuinness showed the Tribunal a handwritten note he had kept of the meeting. It said: “Callinan – McCabe – Sexual abuse! – Individual + family – Don’t trust him – story not credible – investigations ongoing – he’s not credible.”

Callinan tells a different story.

He told the Tribunal that “it was clear” that McGuinness already knew McCabe was the subject of a criminal investigation.

“I did not at any time state to Mr McGuinness that Mr McCabe had sexually abused anyone or that he was not a credible person,” Callinan said.

For her part, Nóirín O’Sullivan said she was not aware of any meeting between Callinan and McGuinness.

According to Taylor, at a later meeting in which he, O’Sullivan, Callinan, then-garda communications director Andrew McLindon, assistant commissioner John O’Mahoney and John McGuinness were present, Callinan referred to McCabe as a “kiddie fiddler”.

Counsel Marrinan said that the Tribunal was “currently attempting to establish whether any of these other persons present heard the comments allegedly made”.

“I absolutely refute the allegation”

In his statements to the Tribunal, Callinan unequivocally denies any wrongdoing.

“I wish to state categorically that I did not direct Superintendent Taylor to brief the media to the effect that Sergeant McCabe was motivated by malice or revenge,” he said.

He added that he was not aware of the creation, distribution and use by Tusla of the file containing the false accusations of sexual abuse against McCabe.

Callinan said: “Therefore, the implication that I used such information to discredit Sergeant McCabe in some way is wholly unfounded.”

He did acknowledge, however, once sharing information about the allegation made against McCabe during a conversation with then-Justice Minister Alan Shatter in March 2013.

Callinan said: “During the course of the conversation Minister Shatter specifically asked me if there was anything in the background relating to Sergeant McCabe that he should be aware of.

In response I told him that there had been an allegation of inappropriate contact by Sergeant McCabe with a child in 2006. I made it clear to him that the matter had been investigated and that a file had been sent to the DPP who had directed no prosecution.

“Where the truth lies”

Summing up all of the evidence that it would be exploring, Marrinan told the Tribunal that is “apparent that there are substantially different accounts of the same incidents being given by the various protagonists”.

He told Mr Justice Charleton that, once hearings are held, it would “explore the contradictions with a view to making your task of deciding where the truth lies easier”.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll hear from all of the major players mentioned here. The Tribunal may have started last March, but there’s a long way to go yet.

Read: Keith Harrison: ‘I may have been mistaken’ about claim gardaí told Tusla to visit home

Read: ‘Grave error’, ‘emotional’, ‘catastrophic’: The who, what and when of the Maurice McCabe saga

About the author:

Sean Murray

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